Professor Jon Binner joined the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences as the new Deputy Head, at the beginning of January. Prior to joining the College, Jon worked at Loughborough University, where for 14 years he was Head of Department and then Dean of School. Professor of Ceramic Sciences and Engineering, Jon obtained his PhD at Leeds University in 1984 – incidentally a big year, which also included his marriage and a career-propelling move to California. He has since held a series of Faculty positions at the Universities of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Leeds, Nottingham and Brunel.
As well as his duties as Deputy Head of College, Jon will also lead a strong research team based in the School of Metallurgy and Materials. Some of his current research is focused on the defence industry and he has recently received a joint EPSRC £4.2million investment for a research program looking at materials for extreme environments, he says, “I’m looking at a number of projects currently, including producing better armour for the military and thermal protection systems for hyper-velocity flight. If used for civilian applications it could mean going from London to Tokyo in as little as an hour and a half (although, of course, an hour and a half will probably always be needed for check-in!)”
Jon brings to EPS a passion for the power of education and knowledge transfer both in terms of seeing research influence industry and in terms of engaging young minds. He is excited by the scope in which scientists can impact society, “My particular interest is seeing research getting out into industry. Whilst I find basic science fascinating my research has always had a strong industrial focus. I’ve worked with both large and small companies facilitating knowledge transfer and thoroughly enjoyed it; I even had my own spin-out company at one point and have seen a number of projects commercialised. I also thoroughly enjoy teaching and I believe academics work at universities so that they can engage with young minds and pass on knowledge. I want to show young people that they can change the future through science and engineering and, for example in my field, through developing new materials for the future.”
One of the exciting things for Jon in this new role is the opportunity to explore more innovative teaching methods, “For me it’s important to recognise that students learn in different ways and that the pressures on them are quite different to those that we faced when we were students; there just weren’t the ‘distractions’ of the internet, social media, new technologies, etc. You can do so much more now from your bedroom than ever before! And so, we need to try new techniques in our teaching; we can just use the same approaches that were used on us. Some will work, some won’t - we need to learn what works. I’m keen to look at things like lecture flipping, more innovative modes of delivery and new ways to interact with the class; for example clickers, a device which enables students to give anonymous feedback during classes and lectures. The important thing is to encourage students to think and engage at the time, in the classroom, this way you can take students deeper than before.”
Jon extends his passion for communicating and influencing colleagues and younger generations by being the current President of his Professional Engineering Institute, the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. He took over in January 2013 and the role will last until December 2014. Although this involves him in many activities, not just in the UK but across the world, one of his favourite was being a judge at the final of Young Persons Lecture Competition, which was held in Hong Kong in 2013 with competitors from around the world. Some of the talks presented were particularly inspiring and he feels that it would be wonderful if the UK’s representative in the 2014 finals being held in Riverside, California were to come from the University of Birmingham. As Jon said: